Christian persecution is rising
Publication Date: 2011-03-18
— Cardinal O’Brien speaks of the threat to Christianity at Aid to the Church in Need report launch
Cardinal Keith O’Brien has said he believes persecution of Christians is growing around the world because of a desire to ‘conquer’ Christianity.
Britain’s most senior Catholic clergyman was speaking in Glasgow on Tuesday ahead of the official launch at Carfin Grotto in Motherwell of the Persecuted and Forgotten report by the charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). The report reveals that 75 per cent of all religious persecution around the world is now directed against Christians and that 100 million Christians worldwide are facing persecution.
Persecution is growing
Speaking to the press on Tuesday at St Rollox’s Church of Scotland church in Sighthill, which helps many Christian refugees who have fled their own countries, the cardinal said his own travels around the world had convinced him that persecution of Christians is growing.
“From what I’ve seen and heard it is getting worse,” he said. “I haven’t been to all the countries named in the report, although I have been to many, and people in these countries have told me many frightening stories of persecution. I think it is because of a growing confidence in people of different religions at present that is leading them to try to impose their will and the will of their faith on people of different faiths, indeed to try and conquer them.”
Treatment of Christians
The cardinal also called on the foreign secretary to link UK international development to guarantees by the recipients of equitable treatment of Christians and other religious minority groups.
“I urge William Hague to obtain guarantees from foreign governments before they are given aid,” the cardinal said. “To increase aid to the Pakistan government when religious freedom is not upheld and those who speak up for religious freedom are gunned down is tantamount to an anti-Christian foreign policy.
“Pressure should now be put on the Government of Pakistan—and the governments of the Arab world as well—to ensure that religious freedom is upheld, the provision of aid must require a commitment to human rights.”
The cardinal said that the ACN report provided an urgent reminder that not all countries enjoyed the same religious freedoms as Scotland.
“I hope the evidence presented by Aid to the Church in Need will encourage us all to speak out for religious freedom at every opportunity and motivate us to support those who campaign for it,” he said. “We ask that the religious freedoms we enjoy to practise our Faith, will soon be extended to every part of the world and that the tolerance we show to other faiths in our midst will be reciprocated everywhere.”
This point was made clear by the presence in Glasgow and at St Francis Xavier’s in Carfin of Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, where nearly a million Christians have fled the country in the past decade.
“It is very difficult for Christians in Iraq right now, because there are so many recent stories of persecution that it makes many lose trust in the future,” Archbishop Warda told the SCO. “That loss of hope is why so many have left Iraq, because it can barely survive where there is such persecution, so many attacks and kidnappings.”
Even though his diocese in the north of the country is the most peaceful in Iraq they still face huge challenges as 4000 Christian families have moved there to escape the violence in Baghdad and Mosul.
“They need food, education, jobs, always they need more and the authorities [in Iraq] do not care,” he said. “They say nice words but they never come to hear people’s stories and when there are attacks on Christians the culprits are never caught.”
He fears that. without help. Christians may be forced out of Iraq forever.
“In many countries, like Iraq, the situation for Christians seems to be worsening, sometimes to the point where we wonder if we will survive as a people in our own country,” he said. “There is no doubt that the political turmoil and growing nationalist struggles in Iraq are contributing to the loss of our religious freedoms.”
Cardinal O’Brien and Archbishop Warda both took part in the official launch of the report on Tuesday night with a ceremony at Carfin that was followed by Stations of the Cross at St Francis Xavier’s Church.
A Christian refugee from Iraq who had settled in Glasgow was on hand at St Rollox Church to drive Archbishop Warda’s point home.
“I left Iraq with my family in 2002,” Nather Esa, who was a teacher in his native land, said. “It had just become too difficult to live there as Christians. There was too much violence and we were living in fear.”
He now cannot imagine returning to his home county.
“I do not know how we could ever go back,” he said. “There are too many people who don’t want Christians there, it is just too dangerous for us.”
St Rollox’s has become vital to the Sighthill asylum seekers community, many of whom are fleeing religious persecution.
Rev James Torrans, the church’s minister, said persecuted people of all faiths come to the church.
“We see that people of many religions have come here after being persecuted by their governments but the abuse of Christians does seem to be disproportionate,” he said. “Since Kosovan refugees started coming here ten, eleven years ago, we’ve responded to that and we now have a drop in centre, English classes and more for refugees from Iraq, Iran, Nigeria and China.”
ACN and Scotland
John Pontifex, who works for ACN, and is the author of the Persecuted and Forgotten report, said he hoped its publication would raise awareness of hardship faced by millions of Christians.
“This report reveals that persecution of Christians around the world is dramatically on the rise,” he said. “So we now have a choice. We can do nothing or we can pray and we can act. And that’s why more and more people—including politicians—are beginning to realise that this issue is perhaps the biggest human rights scandal of our generation and that something had to be done.”
He also said that the charity had been keen to launch the report in Scotland.
“Our Scottish benefactors are incredibly important to us and we thought that by launching the report here in Scotland it would help them see just how important their support is, as this report could not have been completed without it,” he said. “When we heard this church was used by many Christian refugees from Iraq and elsewhere it seemed like the ideal place to illustrate just how crucial this issue is.”
Pic: Paul McSherry